People often visit Creative Writing Corner searching for answers about how to write a death scene, so it’s about time that I gave my thoughts about it. I was first given the assignment to write a death scene as a stand-alone piece when I was a freshman in college, in my very first creative writing class. I chose to write a creative non-fiction piece about a relative of mine. The piece ended up being fairly successful; it was published in my college newspaper and I received a lot of very kind comments about it. Here are a few things I learned from that writing experience:
It’s not about the death; it’s about the life.
For someone witnessing the death of a beloved person, the scene is not just about the way the person is going. Few of us get to choose how we go, and if it’s ugly, or painful, or drawn-out, that still has little reflection on how people feel about the person dying. When a life is at its end, we think about the life. Start thinking about what that life meant in the grander scheme of things, what the survivors will be losing.
After the jump: more things to do in a death scene.
It’s very easy to get cheesy in a death scene, instantly robbing your story of its tenderness and emotion. Err on the side of spare. What I mean by that is, just describe the person’s death; don’t go soaring up into the rafters with analysis and lofty analogies to angels, ascending to heaven, or on the other side, descending to hell. It is a human being, who is dying; there is enough profundity in that simplest of observations to make your readers feel moved.
Go for details
What made people respond to my written piece and call it poignant weren’t the heavy-handed bits or the sweeping generalizations, but the details. I took care with them, mentioning my grandfather’s mode of speaking, the songs he used to hum, his fondness for cleanliness and order. These little things made him live on the page, which is what a death scene is really trying to do. The details make a person seem real. For a reader to feel sad about a character’s death, the character must first live. Choose your details carefully to add poignancy to your scene.
These are a few tips for writing a death scene in your own story or novel. Be tasteful, be spare, be tender, but don’t be cheesy. Good luck!